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UC Davis offers innovative new majors, minors

October 31, 2011

Responding to increased student interest in sustainability, UC Davis this fall introduced a new major, sustainable agriculture, and a new minor, sustainability in the built environment. The innovative fields of study are among an array of new undergraduate and graduate programs planned for the campus, which is known as one of the nation’s most comprehensive universities.

“UC Davis is innovating in response to the evolving interests of students and faculty in ways that will enable us to better achieve our mission of addressing society’s most critical issues,” said Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph Hexter. “Our curriculum is dynamic and innovative — and will be even more so in the decade ahead, as we increase undergraduate student enrollment and add several hundred new faculty.”

Also new this fall: a minor in human rights and a doctoral program in communication. A master's degree in professional accountancy, now in the final states of review, is expected to admit students for fall 2012. And beginning in fall 2013, the university will offer new master’s and doctoral programs in the study of religion.

Meanwhile, the UC Davis Office of Graduate Studies is tracking proposals for about 15 additional new graduate programs.

"UC Davis is the most academically innovative campus in the University of California system, and one of the most innovative anywhere," said Jeffrey Gibeling, dean of graduate studies, who oversees proposals for graduate and professional degree programs as they move through campus and University of California approvals.

Today, UC Davis offers about 90 graduate programs, 100 majors and 108 minors.

But students don’t need to limit themselves to one field of study. UC Davis prides itself on its interdisciplinary programs, which give students the freedom to explore outside traditional disciplines and areas of research.

According to Gibeling, about two-thirds of the graduate programs at UC Davis are offered as interdisciplinary graduate groups, a greater proportion than at any other UC campus.

Patricia Turner, vice provost for undergraduate studies, said new academic programs reflect a need or interest among students, graduate schools or employers.

"Changes in curriculum signify our institution keeping up with what is going on in society," she said.

Proposals for undergraduate majors come through individual colleges and are vetted by committees of the Academic Senate as well as the Council of Deans and Vice Chancellors. In times of budget constraint, majors might be developed from existing courses, build on an existing minor or leverage external funding.

For example, a $180,000 federal grant helped build a Middle East/South Asia major in 2008 from a minor. This year, the program will establish its first visiting lecturer in Iranian/Persianate studies, a move that could be a step toward a minor in Iranian studies.

Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, said the newest undergraduate major, sustainable agriculture and food systems, reflects a change in how scientists think about food and agriculture. The major will provide students with a multidisciplinary understanding of issues facing modern farming and food systems.

The new undergraduate minor in human rights is a combined effort of the Department of History, the Religious Studies Program and other academic units. It encourages students to link their major fields of study with the history, theory, practice and promotion of human rights.

The sustainability in the built environment minor, offered though the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will educate those who will design and maintain human-made surroundings in the challenges and potential solutions for improved sustainability.

Frank Loge, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the UC Davis Center for Water-Energy Efficiency, helped create the minor.

"So much of sustainability requires people from different disciplines to work together," he said. "This minor creates the opportunity for an array of disciplines to come together to design things for the built environment."

A total of 32,654 students started classes at UC Davis this fall.

By 2020, UC Davis expects to add 5,000 additional undergraduates, part of a plan announced by Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi during fall convocation to achieve financial stability and bring 300 new faculty to campus.

About UC Davis

UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 34,000 students, and the full-time equivalent of 4,100 faculty and other academics and 17,400 staff. The campus has an annual research budget of over $750 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and 99 undergraduate majors in four colleges and six professional schools.

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